Reviews

Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club ****

By: Isa Goldberg

May 6, 2024: Bawdy, entertaining, grotesque at times – this revival of Cabaret on Broadway focuses on those elements that have made it a beloved musical for a half century. Hot bodies, great songs, raunchy entertainment explode those elements in a pre-show nightclub act that draws the audience into the Kit Kat Club of today.

Eddie Redmayne (center) in “Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club”.

By: Isa Goldberg

May 6, 2024: Bawdy, entertaining, grotesque at times – this revival of Cabaret on Broadway focuses on those elements that have made it a beloved musical for a half century. Hot bodies, great songs, raunchy entertainment explode those elements in a pre-show nightclub act that draws the audience into the Kit Kat Club of today.

Steven Skybell as Herr Schultz and Bebe Neuwirth as Fraulein Schneider.

In fact, the entire August Wilson Theatre has been transformed. The audience enters into the nightclub. Alcohol flows freely, and the dancing bodies writhe, in a kind of self-choreography – a dance that flows from the innermost parts of their being, and swells until it consumes them.

As the dances build from the performers’ loosely-performed inner dances into statements of personality and experience, Choreographer Julia Cheng creates a language of dance that binds this entire production. 

Eddie Redmayne as the Emcee.

While one woman jerks with electro shock reactions, another moves into a soulful agony and a large man exhibits the traits of a big beast, so the action continues to build. Evoking Jerome Robbins’s symbolic use of the Chagall fiddler from ”Fiddler on the Roof” (1988 Broadway revival), a woman violinist in a pink shawl wafts through the nightclub.

For the audience, it is an intensely immersive experience – being in a seedy cabaret  that is a metaphor for a decadent Germany splintering fast into fascism. While imbibing and digging hot bodies in bacchanalian fashion, it’s fabulous entertainment. 

Gayle Rankin as Sally Bowles.

Brilliantly colored eye shadows and sparkles (Guy Common) adorn scantily dressed (Tom Scutt) dancers. Sam Cox’s hair and wigs bring out all the hues of the rainbow, including the loyal royal red of Eddie Redmayne, the Emcee’s wig. 

Director Rebecca Frecknall achieves a sense of the musical’s muscularity through this imagery much more than through the narrative. Joe Masteroff’s book feels like it’s been tossed off through all the dancing and wildness. Regardless, we do all know what it’s about, and we don’t need to be taught, or so we like to imagine.

Gayle Rankin as Sally Bowles and Ato Blankson Wood.

For instance, “Tomorrow Belongs To Me” may not be a lyric you recognize, but the infectiously haunting tune is one you will. It’s the Nazi Anthem, and it sounds angelic when it’s performed earlier in Act I. But at the end of that Act, when you hear the same song and you realize what it means, you suddenly feel betrayed; ashamed to see yourself as one of those people. 

At the center of it all, the transfixing character of the Emcee, Eddie Redmayne’s version is lighter than audiences who recall Joel Grey’s performance on film and stage, may expect. While Grey’s Emcee lived outside the central story, Redmayne’s Emcee walks into the action, becoming a dignified Nazi by the end of the show. Quite a transformation for this character who forces himself to speak with a German accent in the first scene.

Gayle Rankin (center) as Sally Bowles.

More like circus animals than humans in many ways, the performers delight in acts of orgiastic provocation. It just makes this production feel as overwhelming as spiraling inflation in a world where inequality is volatile. It all looks chaotic, totally maddening – leading to senseless war. Act II opens with the Emcee touting a large orange machine gun. You won’t be pleased by what shoots out of it.

Still, at the heart of it all, are the two romantic stories which shape the musical. Far from the movie version, in which Liza Minelli played a glossy cabaret singer clinging to the life, Gayle Rankin’s Sally Bowles is really gritty. For the most part, her character looks pretty sunk. And Ato Blankson-Wood as Cliff Bradshaw doesn’t really hold out much hope.

But, the older couple also fails at love. Steven Skyball’s Herr Schultz is a charming, dignified German who tries to deny being a Jew. And Bebe Neuworth as Fraulein Schultz is as charming as she is disabling. As is her wont, Neuworth is stage magic, fluidly moving and filling the stage.

It’s a timeless show, wickedly entertaining.

Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club ****
August Wilson Theatre 
245 West 52 Street
Photography: Marc Brenner